The UFC recently announced that Justin Gaethje will replace Khabib Nurmagomedov against Tony Ferguson for the Interim UFC Lightweight Championship that will take place on April 18, 2020. Although fans are likely disappointed that Khabib vs Ferguson has been scrapped for the fifth time, UFC 249 has been a complete hurricane with many fans and experts unsure if the event would even take place. After a combat drought that will have lasted five weeks, the UFC has kept its promise and will put on UFC 249 for the vast number of fans who are staying home during the COVID-19 Pandemic. As Ferguson and Gaethje prepare to battle for the Interim belt with the winner intent on facing Khabib at a later point in the year, let’s look at some of the best matchups the UFC can plan on making after UFC 249!
Dustin Poirier vs Dan Hooker:
This bout needs to be rescheduled, plain and simple. A thrilling lightweight affair between Poirier and Hooker is perhaps the best matchup to make at lightweight after Khabib and Ferguson. Both combatants put on a show every single time they step foot in the Octagon and a potential bout between them screams fight of the night, if not fight of the year. Hooker is currently riding a three-fight win streak that includes a knockout of James Vick and decision wins over Al Iaquinta and Paul Felder. The New Zealand native is 7-1 in his last eight octagon appearances with his only loss coming by way of Edson Barboza via body punch. Hooker demonstrated his toughness in the bout by lasting until the third round as Barboza punished him with powerful kicks and punches for two and a half rounds. Hooker has rebounded strongly since that loss and has made it to the #5 sport in the official UFC light rankings.
The Louisiana native Poirier has come a long way since spending the first two years of his mma career fighting on the local circuits. Poirier has had an impressive mma career to date that includes stoppage victories of Eddie Alvarez, Justin Gaethje, Yancy Medeiros and Carlos Diego Ferreira. The highlight of Poirier’s career thus far was becoming the interim UFC Lightweight Champion after defeating Max Holloway via unanimous decision. Poirier used his fluid striking, relentless pace and sound footwork to pressure and continuously back up Holloway for five straight rounds. Poirier challenged Khabib Nurmagomedov in September of 2019 to unify the lightweight belts but was ultimately defeated by rear-naked choke in the third round. Hungry and ready to bounce back after a successful hip surgery, Poirier is looking to yet again prove he is worthy of UFC gold and a potential title eliminator bout against Hooker will be the perfect way to do so!
The bout between Poirier and Hooker will likely be contested on the feet as both men like to strike early and often. Poirier has the advantage on the ground if he can get it there, but all bets are on the two top lightweights standing and banging until one of them goes down!
Al Iaquinta vs Anthony Pettis:
Talk about a striking battle that has fight of the night written all over it! A lightweight clash between Al Iaquinta and Anthony Pettis screams excitement and both need an exciting fight to bounce back from their recent struggles. Iaquinta had a rough 2019 where he suffered back to back losses to top ranked lightweights Donald Cerrone and Dan Hooker. Iaquinta had trouble dealing with both fighters due to their ability to fight at range and remain long. Still, the New York native has proven time and again that he deserves to be in the top of 10 of the division. Its easy to forget that Iaquinta was riding a five-fight win streak against notable names such as Jorge Masvidal and Joe Lauzon prior to losing a unanimous decision to Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC Lightweight Championship. Iaquinta displayed his toughness by being one of the only UFC lightweights to take the Russian superstar to the distance after accepting the five-round battle on roughly 24 hours’ notice. Under the tutelage of Ray Longo and Matt Sera, Iaquinta has all the tools necessary to correct his two-fight skid with a big fight in 2020.
I don’t believe 170 is the home for Anthony Pettis. Although he had a prolific highlight knockout of Stephen Thompson at that weight, Pettis is undersized to effectively compete with the welterweight titans of the division. Lightweight has been where the former lightweight champion has performed his best and the place he will likely return too. Pettis is also riding a two-fight losing streak courtesy of Nate Diaz and Carlos Diego Ferreira. Although Pettis has had several highlight submission wins over top opponents, he has struggled with fighters who tirelessly pressure him and have solid ground control. Pettis is an exciting UFC veteran and it only takes him one fight to get back into his groove.
A battle between Iaquinta and Pettis will likely be contested on the feet for most of the bout. Pettis will look to utilize his kicks and creativeness to combat Iaquinta’ s no funny business precise boxing. If these two lightweights end up squaring off in the near future, do not blink!
Gregor Gillespie vs Beneil Dariush
After an impressive 6-0 start to his UFC career, Gregor Gillespie suffered a grueling head kick knockout at the hands of Kevin Lee at UFC 244. The New York native suffered a rather excruciating defeat and was handed his first professional loss. Gillespie was having substantial success in the bout with Lee as he clearly had a speed advantage and landed several notable jabs and straights on his opponent. Gillespie will only come back stronger from this and look to rebound impressively after suffering his first loss. His win streak prior includes wins over Andrew Holbrook, Vinc Pichel and Yancy Medeiros. Gillespie utilizes a high guard, accurate jabs and straights along with an impressive 7.44 takedown average per bout to pressure and move throughout his bouts.
Its easy to forget that Beneil Dariush was a former top 10 lightweight prior to his losses back in 2017 and 2018. Prior to his second loss in the UFC against Michael Chiesa, the 30-year-old MMA veteran was riding a five-fight win streak most notably defeating Michael Johnson, Jim Miller and Carlos Diego Ferreira. He suffered knockout losses to Edson Barboza and Alexander Hernandez a couple years later which derailed his lightweight aspirations significantly. However, the Kings MMA standout has rebounded strong than ever and has gone onto compile a four-fight win streak most recently defeating Drakkar Klose via knockout and earning a performance of the night reward. Dariush currently averages 3.91 significant strikes per minute, 1.59 takedowns per bout and an 80% takedown defense rate.
A potential bout between these two top lightweights will be explosive and fast paced. Both are comfortable going to the ground and have solid stand up ability. The victor of the bout will likely be determined on who can dictate the pace and tire out the other at a faster rate.
Lando Vannata vs Leonardo Santos:
A fight between Lando Vannata and Leonardo Santos is the type of fight that will be overlooked but end up resulting in a performance or fight of the night. Both combatants have finished most of their fights and place special emphasis on entertaining fans. Lando Vannata looked “groovy” once again when he faced Yancy Medeiros on February 15, 2020. The 28-year-old moved gracefully and explosively while effectively shutting down Yancy’s offense for all three rounds. Vannata glided across the cage and hit Medeiros with precise shots that resulted in a 30-27 victory and a return to the win column. “Groovy” is looking to build off his current momentum and compile a win streak of his own in 2020 and beyond.
After a three-year hiatus from the UFC, Leonardo Santos returned to the Octagon in 2019 and dazzled fans with a knockout of Stevie Ray at 2:17 of the first round. Ray darted forward and launched a looping left hand that completely exposed the right side of his face. Santos took advantage of the lack of defense and countered with a pinpoint straight right that sent Ray to the canvas. The referee jumped in to stop the bout and rewarded Santos a knockout victory. The UFC lightweight is now 6-1 in his UFC career and has not suffered a professional loss since 2009.
A bout between Vannata and Santos would likely be contested on the feet as both fighters utilize constant movement and exceptional counters to land early and often on their opponents.
Renato Moicano vs Scott Holtzman
Renato Moicano knew he had to make a statement on March 14, 2020 if he had any hopes of climbing the UFC lightweight rankings at an accelerated rate. The Brazilian did just that and more by pulling off a first-round submission of Damir Hadzovic at 0:44 seconds of the first round. Moicano looked comfortable and healthy at his new weight class and cemented his status as a potential lightweight contender in the coming years. His losses have only come at the hand’s top featherweights Brian Ortega, Jose Aldo and Chan Sung Jung. Moicano is currently boasting a 5.53 significant strikes per minute and 1.16 takedowns per bout. Standing at 5’11 with a 72-inch reach, former featherweight contender is ready to take on the next challenge to further elevate his status in the most competitive division of the UFC.
Scott Holtzman is an absolute tank in the UFC lightweight division. There are few individuals in the division who can match the Tennessee resident in the power department. Holtzman has thus far compiled a 6-3 UFC record and is currently riding a two-fight win streak at the expense of Dong Hyun Ma and Jim Miller. Holtzman engaged Miller in a fast-paced bout that saw several transitions and endless action. Holtzman proved he is ready to continue climbing the lightweight rankings and is currently averaging 4.52 significant strikes per minute and 2.23 takedowns per bout.
Both Moicano and Holtzman are surging lightweights who need a fight to further plunge them up the rankings. A potential bout between the two will help dictate who is ready for the next step. Both boast a solid ground attack and have above average striking statistics. Set these two up for a clash in middle 2020 and the winner takes the next step up the ladder.
What UFC lightweight matchups do you want to see in 2020?
Andrew is a lifelong follower of combat sports. His passion began as a child and has only grown as an adult. Andrew holds a bachelor’s degree from Pepperdine University and a master’s from Texas A & M University. Outside of combat sports, Andrew currently works as a program manager for an aerospace manufacturing company. He has trained Muay Thai for seven years and continues to spar and train on the weekends when time permits.